A few months ago we experienced in much of our country an extraordinary winter weather event. In Fort Worth, Texas, there was the kind of multi-car pile-up that we just never see in our part of the world. The icy road conditions were far worse than anticipated in a place that rarely sees icy roads at all. More than 130 cars were involved. 6 people lost their lives.
If you’re from much colder places than the southwest, it might be easy to criticize the lack of driving skills or experience in such conditions, but the kind of unexpectedly treacherous and often virtually invisible ice on the roads on that day were, to use an over-worked adjective, unprecedented to the good folks on the highway that morning.
We’ve had a belly full of “unprecedented” over the last couple of years. There isn’t a leader in the world that had been in a leadership role during a global pandemic. I just finished a master’s degree in leadership a couple of years ago, but we never covered anything remotely resembling what we experienced in 2020.
I’ve suggested to you that leadership is a lot like driving a bus. Somebody has to take the wheel for the group to get anywhere.
But imagine being a bus driver with a full load of kids on that icy morning in Fort Worth. The huge beast of a vehicle doesn’t respond the same way as it always has. The road may not even look too much different but the brakes don’t grab like before. Stopping to pick up that last kid is a terrifying thought. Turning on to the expressway seems unwise, but you’re expected to arrive in a timely manner.
Meanwhile… any teacher will tell you that you don’t have to look out the window to know that the weather is crazy. The behavior of the kids reflects it long before any weather warnings pop up on our smartphones. They sense something is strange and their unconsciously nervous energy causes a lot of behavior that needs to be monitored closely, redirected gently, corrected firmly.
Now think about the weight in that driver’s seat. This person has taken on the responsibility to transport safely, monitor attentively, and manage effectively the precious cargo—each of which is the most precious treasure of their parents and family. And they must do it while trying to navigate the same streets that are causing others to crash. They must do it without allowing the reckless behavior of others around them to affect their task.
Every decision could have tragic costs. Every action and reaction is questioned in their own head and will likely be questioned at length by others around them.
My friends, that tension you can imagine in your gut when you imagine yourself in that driver’s seat is exactly what most leaders have been living with over the past year and a half. We’ve never led through a pandemic. We’ve never seen anything like this.
Many leaders have been constantly criticized (whether spoken or just through stern looks) for driving too close to one ditch or too close to the other. Some want us to hole up in our bunkers and wait for the storm to pass. Others want us to live freely as though the storm was a smokescreen to cover the leeching away of our freedoms. And those who seek to find the wise path between these extremes get pummeled from both sides.
I know ministry leaders that have had families that refused to participate if they were asked to wear masks and other families that refused to participate unless everyone did wear masks. All we can do is seek to walk a path of prudence which is, in most cases, somewhere between the extremes.
Why am I drawing this to your attention?
I want you to understand that leaders are facing pressures and circumstances we’ve never seen before. I want you to remember that relationships matter more than our politics and theology. And let’s be honest; if either of those cause you to hate people, it’s broken
Please, my friends, have a little grace for the bus drivers in your world—literal and otherwise.